Northamptonshire Natural History Society
The History of the Society - The Early Years
Reprinted from Northamptonshire, Past and Present, Vol. 1, No. 5, 1952. by permission of the Northamptonshire Record Society.
JOAN WAKE, F.S.A., F.R.HISTS.
'In 1876,' wrote the late Mr. George Claridge Druce, in the Introduction to his Flora of Northamptonshire, 'we founded the Northamptonshire Natural History Society.' The banding of people together into clubs and societies in the pursuit of particular objects, be they of a practical, sporting, religious or academic nature, is certainly a wide-spread and deeply rooted habit in this country; whether it be equally so on the Continent I do not know. In the Middle Ages we in England had our religious and craft guilds, our city companies. In the reign of Charles II, with the dawn of scientific studies came the birth of the Royal Society. The Society of Antiquaries was founded in 1717, the Linnaean Society in 1788, the Geological Society in 1807, the Zoological Society in 1828, and the Royal Geographical Society in 1830, but it was not until the 19th century that the widespread interest in science and the advancement of learning generally led to a great flowering of local Societies of all kinds. These, though sometimes regional, developed most naturally and most successfully on a county basis.
Before the 19th century the provincial amateur of science or history worked in complete or comparative isolation. He may have had friends, followers, and helpers, as had the first Lord Hatton of Kirby Hall in the 17th century, the Rev. John Morton and John Bridges, the 18th century historians of Northamptonshire, but there was then no organised teamwork, there were no periodical meetings for discussion, no journals of proceedings, as there were to be in later days. The first county scientific society seems to have been the Royal Geological Society of Cornwall, founded in 1814. The Yorkshire Philosophical Society was founded in 1822, and Worcestershire followed with a Natural History Society in 1833. In addition to these, 23 local societies were founded in the first half of the 19th century. Of the total number, 19 were based on towns, one was regional and only six were on a county basis. In the second half of the century, there was a great increase in the number of county societies, owing largely to the real enthusiasm for knowledge which was such a prominent feature of the period. Other factors no doubt, were the abundance of books and the cheapness of printing, the invention of photography and the coming of the railways, which last development favoured the enlargement of the activities of local organisations to the area of the county.
But the fundamental cause of all this ferment of activity was the rapid advance of science, and, above all, perhaps, the work of Charles Darwin, his discoveries and his theories which caused a revolution in the attitude of man to nature. The atmosphere of enthusiasm and even excitement in the early days of the Northamptonshire Society is still reflected in the pages of its Journal. Science was not then so highly specialised or so abstruse as it is today, and everyone was encouraged to lend a hand.
It was five years after the publication of The Descent of Man and 17 after The Origin of Species had appeared, that in 1876 the Northamptonshire Natural History Society was founded by George Claridge Druce, then a chemist's assistant in the still existing firm of Philadelphus Jeyes, Northampton. 'The Society,' wrote Druce many years later (Flora of Northamptonshire, p. xxii), 'did much to break down religious and class distinctions in the town and led to a considerable interest being taken in the Natural Sciences.' Druce had previously founded the Northampton Pharmaceutical Association, which had carried out some useful botanical work. The success of the latter body suggested the formation of a Society 'to develop the scientific investigation of the local fauna and flora, the geology, meteorology, and even the antiquarian lore of the County'.
Mr. Druce persuaded his friend Mr. Charles Jecks, of Northampton, a gentleman of independent means', a Unitarian, a student of geology, and an enthusiastic follower of Darwin, to become the first honorary secretary. The promoters of the enterprise were up against difficulties which sound almost incredible to those of the present generation, and which certainly did not exist when the Northamptonshire Record Society was founded 40 years later. The acuteness of the political division between Conservatives and Liberals was intense; there was also great bitterness between orthodox Christians on the one side and agnostics and downright atheists on the other, whereas inside the Christian fold sectarian antagonisms were fierce. The Victorians had convictions and held them with a moral fervour little to be observed today. In addition to these deep political and religious cleavages across the face of English society, almost unbridgeable class distinction held unquestioned sway. . :
It was deemed impossible to make a start with the new enterprise until the official approval of the churches had been obtained. Druce, who evidently had a way with him, was therefore commissioned to approach the clerical world. His first capture was the Rev. S. J. W. (afterwards Canon) Sanders, headmaster of Northampton Grammar School, and, according to Druce 'a most lovable man'. A Baptist minister, two Congregational ministers, and a Roman Catholic priest were then successfully landed by the artful chemist.
Having gathered all these very varied fish into his net, a preliminary meeting was held to draw up the rules of the new Society. There was some discussion as to what subjects were to be included under the term 'Natural History', and it was decided 'not to extend our researches into antiquarian and archaeological subjects'. It was also resolved, on the proposition of Mr. Jecks, that the Society should be on a non-sectarian basis, but when he wished to exact from every member a declaration of belief in Darwin's theory of the descent of man, a shout of laughter greeted his proposal.
The question of the President then had to be settled. As one of the most distinguished ornithologists in the Country at that time was a Northamptonshire man, the choice was an obvious one. Lord Lilford accepted the invitation, and from that day until his death, took the liveliest interest in the Society and all its doings. Before the first meeting, Mr. Druce, who was evidently a man of great initiative, had approached a number of the foremost scientists in the Country, and several of these agreed to become honorary members, so that when the first roll of membership was published, among the names were those of Sir Joseph Hooker and the Rev. Miles Berkeley, the eminent botanists (Mr. Berkeley was at that time Vicar of Sibbertoft in the County), Sir John Lubbook, Professors Owen and Huxley, and even that of the great Charles Darwin himself.
The opening meeting was held in the Council Chamber of the recently built Town Hall at Northampton (The birthplace also of the Record Society) Lord Lilford presided and remarked in his speech that he was glad to see the special rule encouraging working men to join. The Society in fact was an experiment in organised good fellowship in pursuit of a common cause.
For the first year or two the Society depended on the local press for reports of its proceedings, and well did it respond. In 1877 Mr. Druce's first paper on the Flora of Northamptonshire was printed in extenso in the Northampton Mercury. The Journal of the Midland Union of Natural History Societies also circulated among the members. To this Union in 1880 there belonged 24 societies, some calling themselves philosophical, others literary and scientific, two brought 'Archaeological' into their titles and one 'Antiquarian', but the words 'Natural History' came into most of them. The counties represented were Bedfordshire, Warwickshire, Staffordshire, Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, Derbyshire, Shropshire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, and Northamptonshire, the last being represented also by the Peterborough Natural History and Scientific Society as well as by the Northants Natural History Society.
The first outstanding event in the History of the Society was the Annual Meeting of this Midland Union at Northampton in 1880. The thing was done in style; it was a two days event and must have created a considerable stir in the town. Twenty-four visiting Societies were represented. There was an official reception followed by a Great Meeting at the Town Hall and a Meat Tea at the Plough Hotel. A telegram, instigated, one suspects, by the resourceful Mr. Druce, was received from the Meteorological Office, forecasting 'easterly breezes, fine and warmer'. There were exhibitions of scientific objects including a phonograph (the precursor of the gramophone); and there were excursions for the geologists, the botanists, and the antiquaries, for, in spite of resolutions to the contrary, the Society could not restrain its interest in archaeological matters.
The proceedings, marked throughout by great zest and enthusiasm, ended with what some called a Soiree and others a Conversazione, again at the Town Hall, at which the sub -committee arranged for 'Refreshments under the Organ'. This great re-union was enthusiastically reported by the Northampton Press. The chairman at the united meeting of all the Societies which was the central event of the occasion, was Sir Herewald Wake of Courteenhall, then a young man of 27 and a keen naturalist. Lord Lilford, some 20 years his senior, was also present. A romantically minded journalist, well versed no doubt, in his Charles Kingsley, observing them as they sat side by side, described Sir Herewald as 'a young stalwart man, with the square face, rounded head, and cool resolute expression of an old Saxon warrior', and Lord Lilford as 'with the longer features, quick nervous temperament, and genial countenance of the modern English nobleman'.
In 1879 the Society decided to embark on the publication of its own Journal. Never has a decision been more amply justified, for in the course of the next 20 years there appeared in its pages the first essays of several men whose later works have made a solid and by no means negligible contribution to the scientific literature of this country. Let us glance at the first number which appeared in 1881. The first article, 'Notes on the Birds of Northamptonshire', is appropriately by the President, Lord Lilford, who contributed regularly until his death 16 years later. Further articles by Beeby Thompson and G. C. Druce, both local men, compel one to the well-worn edict, 'there were giants on the earth in those days'. Certainly it would be hard to find another County Society with a membership of such eminent authorities in the ornithological, geological, and botanical fields. The volume is illustrated, not by half-tone blocks or lithographs, but by incredibly beautiful photographic prints, stuck on to the pages from negatives made by members of the Society. The most beautiful of these perhaps, is the picture of 'Queen Bess's Lime Tree' at Burghley House, which was blown down in the following year, from a negative by Mr. R. G. Scriven. The sharpness, tone, and colour of these illustrations is still wonderfully preserved after more than 70 years. The lesser lights of the Society also had good things to contribute to this first number. There is, for example, a list of Northamptonshire butterflies by Sir Herewald Wake, and a delightful review of Miss Ormerod's edition of Miss Moldsworth's Cobham Journals by the Rev. T. 0. Beasley, Rector of Dallington. Mr. Beasley's chief scientific interest was meteorology; in the article here referred to, he has some striking remarks to make on the inter-relation of scientific studies. 'The Cobham Journals,' he wrote, 'show plainly that the noble science of meteorology is very closely allied to those of botany and entomology, and ... has many interesting points of contact with ornithology, geology, and physical geography. And it will be admitted,' he adds, 'that to study any branch of knowledge to any real purpose, we must make ourselves familiar with those which are allied to it.'
But the Society had already realised the truth of these remarks and there were in being by 1879, ornithological, entomological, geological, meteorological, and botanical sections, with microscopic and photographic sections added, to aid the work of the others.
At the end of the first 20 years of its existence, much valuable work had been accomplished. Lord Lilford had contributed over 50 papers on the birds of Northamptonshire, Mr. Druce, 55 papers on its flora, Mr H. N. Dixon, also an eminent botanist, had made 40 contributions especially on his own subject of mosses, and Mr. Beeby Thompson 42 articles on geology. Lord Lilford's series of articles was eventually published in two handsome illustrated volumes as The Birds of Northamptonshire, and Mr. Druce's appeared in revised form and as late as 1930 in that most delightful and unusual of scientific volumes, The Flora of Northamptonshire. Sad to say, Mr. Beeby Thompson's papers have never appeared in a separate volume. After his death all his notes and memoranda wore sent under the terms of his will, to the Public Library at Northampton, where they have since been used as a mine of information by generations of students. To the uninitiated his early articles are somewhat dry reading, but his interests broadened considerably as life went on, and his later articles on the Springs and Rivers of Northamptonshire are full of folklore and local history, and as interesting to the general reader as anything could be. When the plans wore laid for the Victoria History of the County, Mr. Beeby Thompson was entrusted with the geological section, while Mr. Druce and Mr. Dixon took charge of the botany. This volume appeared just half a century ago.
Excellent friends as the members of the Society were with one another, controversy arose at times. Mr. Dixon had read a paper in defence of the dowser; Mr. Beeby Thompson made a very polite but devastating reply. The folly of the expert who attempts to dogmatise in fields other than his own, was well illustrated by this amusing little passage of arms.
Though the early vigour and sustained quality of the Society's work undoubtedly depended chiefly on these four men, Lord Lilford, G. C. Druce, Beeby Thompson, and H. N. Dixon, there were others in the inner circle who gave notable help in laying its foundations. Mr. W. D. Crick, for example, a Fellow of the Geological Society, who corresponded with Darwin, contributed papers on our molluscs. From 1884, Major C. A. Markham was in charge of the meteorological section; Mr. R. 0. Scriven of Castle Ashby and Mr. Harry Manfield, son of Sir Philip Manfield, founder of the famous firm of Manfield and Sons, Northampton, were both photographers of great distinction, using the craft as the handmaid of science and showing that, while scouring valuable scientific records, artistic results of the highest quality could be achieved. Mr. Scriven's photographs of famous trees of the County with the accompanying notes are among the most attractive contributions to the early journals. Mr. Scriven was head of the forestry department on the Castle Ashby estate where his father and grandfather had been agents.
In addition to those above-mentioned, members of the well-known local families of Eunson, Terry, Bostock, Shoosmith, Cooper, Brice, Hensman, Holding, Hall, Law, Tomalin, Birdsall, Wells, Knight, Phipps, Pettit and Rodhouse, wore a great strength to the Society in that early period. Mr. T. C. George, for many years curator of Northampton Museum, who comes into the picture towards the end of it, was for long one of the most active spirits of the archaeological section, eventually founded in 1897. The medical profession was well represented by Doctors Barr and Buszard. Other honoured names from the County, too, are to be found on the early roll, including Mr. Valentine Cary-Elwes, Squire of Great Billing, the Duke of Grafton, Sir Charles Isham of Lamport, Sir Rainald (afterwards Lord) Knightley of Fawsley, and Mr. H. 0. Nethercote of Moulton Grange.
Except for Lord Lilford, who was 43, the original founders of the Society were all in their 20s - Druce was 26, Beeby Thompson, 27, Wake and Dixon about the same age. Now they have all passed away. Lord Lilford died in 1895, my father in 1916, Mr. Beeby Thompson in 1931 at the age of 82, Mr. Druce a year later, at 81, Mr. Dixon at the age of 83, in 1944. What were these men like who certainly did something for the advancement of knowledge, and much for the increase of a general interest in science among the Northamptonshire public? It may be of interest if I conclude this paper with some biographical details and a few personal reminiscences of these men, of whom all except one were personally known to me.
My father rented Cotterstock Hall for the winter of 1893-4, which brought us within reach of Lilford. One memorable day he took my small sister and myself over there in our one-horse brougham. We were taken up to Lord Lilford's room in a lift (the first I had ever been in), and there, in his wheeled chair, for he had long. been a cripple from rheumatic gout, sat an old man, as I thought him, with fluffy white hair and beard. On his writing table beside him, wore two black and white birds in a cage. He spoke to us kindly, but we were almost speechless with shyness, and relieved when my father then took us to see the aviaries and the Spanish bear in the backyard. Then, to his great delight, the Lammergeier eagle or Bearded Vulture, flew over our heads, and settling on a chimney pot, spread out its wings at full stretch for our especial benefit. Lord Lilford wrote about these vultures in the Natural History Society Journal for 1894. (Vol. VIII, p. 88.) 'The sight of these huge birds,' he said, 'soaring about the place, generally pursued by a cloud of rooks, was certainly unique in England, and afforded to me, who am well-acquainted with the Lammergeier in its native haunts, a constant source of interest and pleasant memories of localities that are still to a great extent unspoiled by man. These birds of mine were very tame and perfectly harmless, indeed, with the exception of a few playful attacks on trousers, gaiters. petticoats and boots, I have never heard of any malice on their part towards any living creature.'
Lord Lilford was born in 1833, and educated at Harrow and Oxford, at both of which places he kept a private menagerie. His devotion to ornithology lasted for the rest of his life, and he paid many visits to Spain and the Mediterranean in pursuit of his favourite study. His aviaries at Lilford wore far-famed, both in his own life-time and in that of his son. In addition to many papers in the scientific journals and his two volume book on Northamptonshire birds he was the author of a work on Birds of the British Islands, which was published after his death in seven volumes.
Lord Lilford wrote as a sportsman as well as a naturalist and his leisurely discursive accounts of our commonest birds are full of interest and incidentally throw light on the social habits and conditions of the time. In his first article for the Society he deprecated 'the mania for the indiscriminate slaughter of every so-called rare bird', and welcomed the new taste for ornithological observation, but had many sad murders to record in the following 16 years. He had correspondents who sent him the results of their observations from all over the County. In Volume VIII of the Journal (p. 89) he wrote of the Little Owl, now common to many counties, which he introduced into this country:
'Whilst on the subject of owls, I may add that for several years past I have annually set at liberty a considerable number of the Little Owl, properly so called, Athene noctua, from Holland, and that several pairs of these most amusing birds have nested and reared broods in the neighbourhood of Lilford.... I trust that I have now fully succeeded in establishing it as a Northamptonshire bird, and earnestly entreat all present who may have an excellent opportunity, to protect and encourage these birds; they are excellent mousecatchers, and very bad neighbours to young sparrows in their nests, therefore valuable friends to farmers and gardeners. . . . Besides their taste for mice, they are very efficient in the destruction of cockroaches and other beetles.'
The owls, as he says in the same paper, were his favourite birds. Whether the Little Owl has been a good friend to the nightingale is a controversial matter which it would be inappropriate to pursue here.
Lord Lilford on several occasions entertained the members of the Natural History Society at Lilford. On his death (17th June 1896) he was described in the obituary notice of him in the Journal as 'its best friend' (IX, 53).
MR. BEEBY THOMPSON
Beeby Thompson, who was described after his death (on 12th December 1931) as 'Northamptonshire's most distinguished scientist and the oldest and most assiduous member of the Natural History Society', was never accorded the honour really due to him in his own county. He was, in truth, a great scientist, and it is perhaps not too late to hope that his collected papers and unprinted material on the geology of Northamptonshire will be published in volume form.
Thompson was born in 1849. His parents apprenticed him to a music store; he then tried his hand at journalism, but it was not until he had attended an evening science class at Northampton that he discovered his true vocation. After working as an assistant-master there, he became a science master at Truro, returning later to Northampton as the first head master of the Northampton School of Science and Technology (since developed into a College). Here he was a brilliant success and with farsighted vision started classes in the Principles of Agriculture and in Boot and Shoe Manufacture, thus laying the foundations of 'the fine edifice of scientific technical instruction the youth of our County enjoy today'.
He resigned in 1894 to become a professional geologist of world-wide reputation. He did much work for oil-prospecting firms in many countries, and for local authorities at home in search of water-supplies. His interest in the Society never diminished and for many years the Journal had the inestimable advantage of his editorship. His knowledge of the County was profound; much of it he had explored with his wife on a tandem bicycle. I saw him last in his old age at home --a most modest and unassuming home, it struck me, for such an eminent man-when ill-health compelled him to stay indoors. I had gone to discuss with him a pamphlet I had just written on why the main line of the railway missed Northampton; he was kindness itself, and gave me helpful criticism. The topic led him to speak-rather sadly, as I thought of the mass of his own unpublished work, now at the Public Library. This visit of mine cannot have been long before his death. 'At the last,' says the writer of his obituary notice, 'conscious that his life's work was finished, he gladly welcomed the call.... He was a great-hearted man.'
MR. HUGH NEVILLE DIXON
Early in the 1880s Mr. H. N. Dixon came to Northampton as an Assistant-Master at the School for the Deaf and Dumb, of which he subsequently became Headmaster. He was the son of the Rev. R. W. Dixon and was born in 1861 at Wickham Bishops in Essex. He joined the Natural History Society in 1883 and soon began to write for the Journal; he was President of the Botanical Section for over 50 years and from 1888 to 1933 was Hon. Secretary of the Society.
Dixon was the author of The Student's Handbook on British Mosses (1896) which ran into several editions. He also wrote on British, European and New Zealand mosses, and became an authority of world. wide reputation on his subject. For many years the naming of new varieties collected by botanical expeditions was entrusted to him. He was a cultivated man of charming character and was always ready to make his knowledge accessible in the friendliest way to all who came to consult him. He died at Northampton on 9th May 1944, and his collection of mosses is now at the Natural History Museum in London.
SIR HEREWALD WAKE
My father was born at Southampton in 1852. He was an ardent naturalist from boyhood. His schooldays were before the cult of organised games had come in, and while he was at Eton he used to wander off by himself, sometimes for the whole day, collecting butterflies or watching birds. In spite of his flair for natural history, he lacked the staying power to do the arduous concentrated work of a Druce or a Lilford, or to ground himself deeply in the science of his subject, but he had a keen intelligence, highly-developed powers of observation, a wonderful joy and delight in the works of nature and a profoundly religious attitude towards them. He was above all a countryman and was never really happy away from Courteenhall where he went to live in 1875, the year after his marriage.
A walk or a drive in the country with him, or, above all, a day's canoeing as children on a fine day in May or early June along the River Ouse or its tributary the Tove, was a wonderful experience. No notice was given; he would march into the schoolroom and tell us to get ready. Bang would go the lesson books and out we would rush. I can see his broad-shouldered figure now, with light grey flannel coat and trousers; instead of a waistcoat a broad red cummerbund; and on his head, a grey pith sun-helmet. Equipped with a luncheon basket, off we used to drive in the dog-cart, my father, my younger sister and myself, starting operations at either Bozenham or Cosgrove Mill. Then down the stream we would quietly paddle, between the rushes and the meadow-sweet and yellow flags, the ragged robin and the pollard willows, watching the flight of a distant heron or listening to the song of the warblers, the splash of a water-rat, or the scuffle of a frightened moor-hen as we rounded a bend. For we stopped chattering on these occasions, when we saw the world from an entirely different point of view, richly enjoying every moment of the happy day. One year we happened for our expedition on the day on which peace was declared after the South African War. The world around us was in its fullest beauty, the sun was shining, the haymakers were abroad, and as we slowly made our way along the Tove, from every church tower the bells were pealing across the summer meadows.
My father could recognise the song or flight of every bird, he knew the name of every plant and insect, and he delighted in awakening in his children something of his own interest in the teeming life of the country. He would not allow us to shudder or be frightened at spiders or noxious insects, but would catch a specimen and show us how marvellously it was made. One day while we were having tea in the library, he casually pulled out of his pocket a grass snake, quite two foot long, which he had picked up while out shooting that day. The reptile was kept as a pet in the conservatory, and it ainuabd. him to put it on the dining-room table after luncheon, to the horror of some of our guests. He shared Lord Lilford's dislike of the fashion then prevalent of decorating ladies' hats with feathers, and woo to any lady who came to the house adorned with osprey plumes He had seen and never forgotten a flight of osprey in Florida as a young man.
Though he bought all Charles Darwin's works, had them beautifully bound by Messrs. Birdsall and put them on his library shelves, my father did not, like Mr. Ketch, accept the Darwinian theory of the descent of man from the ape. He wrote satirical verses about it, and composed and illustrated in water-colour, a story called 'Mr. Walker's Tour through Central Africa' - a sort of skit on Livingstone's journeys which culminated in the discovery of a quite revolting creature half man, half monkey, which turned out to be the Missing Link in the chain of evidence. His library was well furnished with the works of Sowerby, Anne Pratt, the Rev. J. Wood, and other writers on his favourite subject.
Sir Herewald went further in the study of entomology than in any other branch of natural history, and was President of the Entomological Section from the beginning in 1876, and on Lord Lilford's death in 1895, succeeded him an President of the Society. The papers which he contributed to the Journal dealt with other subjects in addition to entomology. If not, as he admitted, deeply scientific, his lectures were always, I venture to think, interesting, original and usually amusing.
There is a record in the local newspaper of his first paper to the Society, read at the beginning of the winter session of 1879. It was the disastrous summer of that year which started the agricultural depression and the ruin of the landowners. The Hymenoptera, he said, had had a bad time. After touching on the Coleoptera he settled down to a discussion of the Diptera, illustrated by his own drawings, and ended by saying:
'The more one knew of the science of entomology, which he recommended to the botanists because botany and entomology, like bread and butter, went well together, the more he would come to appreciate the wonderful greatness of the Creator, and to feel himself but a dabbler on the shores of the vest ocean of knowledge.'
That reverent, attitude to the works of nature he maintained throughout his life.
In subsequent years he read on 'Flowers' (Journal, Vol. III, p. 325), 'Instinct and Reason' (IV, 153), 'Our Friends the Wasps' (VII, 272), 'On the Wing' (on the flight of birds and insects) (X, 1), 'The Spider and the Fly' (X, 1115), and 'Foxes' (XIV, 182)-ME; last paper.
In 'Instinct and Reason' he attacked the materialism to which, in his view, Darwin's theory of Evolution inevitably led. 'The dividing line between instinct and reason,' he concluded, 'sets a wide chasm between man and the lower animals which no theory yet advanced has been able to bridge.' In his short paper on 'Flowers', he drew attention to the aesthetic faculty as evidence of the existence of the Creator and of the soul of man. In 'On the Wing’ written in 1898, he discussed the possibility of human flight. 'Last year said he, 'Herr Andree mounted into the air in his balloon to go in search of the North Pole. Now, alas! as was expected would be the case, fruitless searches are being made for Herr Andree.... I do not myself think that any of us now alive will ever be able to take return tickets to let us say, Timbuctoo, by an aerial liner.' Yet he firmly believed in the possibility of flying, and lived to see the early stages of the aeroplane.
In Sir Herewald the naturalist and the sportsman were continually at war, as I think they must have been also in Lord Lilford. But custom, convention, and the hunting instincts in homo sapiens are very strong. Not long before his death, my father told me he then got little or no enjoyment out of killing birds and animals, and I think if he had been born 50 years later he would have pursued his game with a camera instead of a gun. However, in early life before ill-health prevented, he had been a great devotee of the chase, and no one in the Grafton or Pytchley Hunts rode straighter to hounds than he. It was therefore inevitable that in his paper on 'Foxes', the last read to the Society (1908), he should touch on his favourite sport. Before doing so, as indicated in the title of his address, he pointed out that each fox was as distinct from all other foxes as is every individual human being from all others; he then proceeded to give some very interesting results of his first-hand observation of their habits. Then he came to fox-hunting, and of course the question of cruelty. could not be avoided. He contented himself with quoting Frank Beers, the famous Grafton huntsman, who remarked, when challenged on this question:
'We know we like it, And we know the hounds like it, And we know the horses like it, And we don't know the fox don't like itl' Sir Herewald then proceeded to defend on economic hunting and other grounds, and concluded:
'Hunting gives more healthy amusement and more' pleasure, both directly and indirectly, than any other sport.... Those who abuse fox-hunting remind one of the fox who said the grapes were sour because they were out of his reach. Talking of the foxes of fable, I am rather like the fox who lost his brush, myself, because I have not been able to hunt for years past; but unlike him, so far from decrying the sport, I still maintain that a good day's fox-hunting is a foretaste of heaven.'
He then broke into verse.
'Tis pitiable to contemplate
Our poor successors' future fate
What time the foolish human race
Have finally thrown up the chase.
For they will never realise
True worth of hands and cars and eyes,
Nor will they know how well a steed
Can answer call on pluck and speed.
When at such pass they have arrived
'Twere best for them they ne'er had lived.
I think my stars sincerely that
I've lived ere times had fall'n so flat,
When every fox has gone to ground
The world may cease to whirl around,
Yet memory of life for me
Will brighten all eternity.'
DR. GEORGE CLARIDGE DRUCE
It is my great regret that I never met G. C. Druce, one of the greatest if not the greatest figure in the history of the Society. He came of a family of farmers in a small way in the south of the County and was born at Potterspury on 23rd May 1850. The first six years of his life were spent two miles away at Old Stratford on the River Ouse, which here forms the County boundary. (Journal, XXVI, 124.) In 1866 he went to live at Yardley Gobion, a hamlet of Potterspury. In the same year that he moved to Yardley he became apprenticed to the firm of Philadelphus Jeyes, Northampton, of which he became manager less than three years later. He passed all his professional examinations with brilliant success, and, in 1879, seeing no prospects before him in Northampton, 'left town in which he knew "everyone" and a county which he dearly loved, and like Coelebs went in quest not of a wife, but of a business'. This he found in the High Street at Oxford, and here he remained for the rest of his long and busy life. In addition to his professional work as a chemist he joined the City Council, becoming subsequently Mayor of Oxford, and pursued his botanical studies with immense vigour and application. By 1926 he had written and published works on the flora of Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire. He was Fielding Curator of the University, which bestowed on him the honorary degree of M.A., and was the author of several botanical works besides those above-mentioned. In 1880 he founded the Natural History Society of Oxfordshire. In 1926 he 'determined to complete his first love, the Flora of Northamptonshire', which was published in 1930, not two years before his death.*
* In his Introduction to this work Druce gives biographical notes of all our County botanists, 31 In number, beginning with John Gerard (1545-1612), and ending very sensibly with full autobiographical details of his own life. The most important names on his list are those of the Rev. John Morton (1671-1726), 'the one to whom Natural Science In Northamptonshire owes most', and to whom he devotes 25 pages, John Hill (1716-75) and the Rev. Miles Joseph Berkeley (1803-89). The Countess of Huntingdon, of Orton Hall, near Peterborough, a disciple of Berkeley, is also mentioned. Her daughter, Lady Ethel Wickham of Cotterstock Hall, Northants, has inherited her mother's botanical Interests. She has this year succeeded In growing, from three cuttings flown from California, several specimens of Metasequola Glyptostroboides, a tree, which, until it was recently found growing In China, had been known only in fossilized form.*
Thus Druce, according to his own account was a happy and successful man in all that he set himself to do. But he was also a man of the widest culture and aesthetic appreciation. The particular charm of his papers lies in his skilful use of the English poets to supplement his scientific descriptions of plants. He accorded to our Northamptonshire poet, John Clare, his rightful place among the botanists, and in his Flora of Northamptonshire quotes all the references to wild flowers to be found in the poet's works. These are given, though in poetical language, with such minute precision that Druce was able to append the correct botanical name to each flower described by Clare.
Druce gave a list with biographical sketches of all of Northamptonshire botanists, beginning with John Morton and ending, very sensibly and with profit to posterity with himself.
His appreciation of Clare is one of the best things in the Flora of Northamptonshire. After giving a few particulars of the 'piteous story' of the poet's life, he describes (p. xcvi) how in the last 22 years at St. Andrew's Hospital Clare was occasionally allowed to go into the town, where he would sit under the portico of All Saints' Church, watching the children play, or, as Druce himself remembered him 'as a little, pathetic, distraught figure, gazing into the sky'. (Clare was under five feet in height.)
How right Druce was, even from the strictly scientific point of view, to call Clare to his aid! The 'qualitative' approach of the poet guides us to the living heart of nature more surely than the microscopic precision of the scientist could ever hope to do. Yet, as Druce was perhaps the first to point out, Clare the poet had much of the scientist in him.
Listen for a moment to his description, quoted in Druce's book, of the firat appearance of the willow blossom in the February woods:
'Pendant o'er rude old ponds, or leaning o'er
The Woodland's mossy rails, the Sallows now
Put on their golden liveries, and restore
The Spring to splendid memories, ere a bough
Of whitethorn shows a leaf to say it's come;
And through the leafless underwood rich stains
Of sunny gold show where the Sallows bloom,
Like sunshine in dark places, and gold veins
Mapping the russet landscape into smiles
At Spring's approach: nor hath the Sallow palms
A peer for richness: ploughmen in their toils
Will crop a branch, smit with its golden charms.'
or of the scarlet pimpernel::
'And with eye of gold
And scarlet-starry points of flowers,
Pimpernel dreading nights and showers
Oft called the "Shepher'd Weather Glass".'
or the water lily:
'While water-lilies in their glory come
And spread green isles of beauty round their home.'
Clare saw so much that most of us pass blindly by and do not even care to see. What wealth is spread before every Northamptonshire farm labourer walking to his work on a June morning! It is, perhaps, in the following lines, also quoted by Druce, that Clare demonstrates to the highest perfection, the exquisite delicacy of his vision:
'Me not the noise of brawling pleasure cheers
In nightly revels or in city streets;
But joys that soothe and not distract the cars
That one at leisure meets
In the green woods, and meadows summer-shorn,
Or fields where bee-fly greets
The ear with merry horn.
The green-swathed grasshopper, on trebled pipe,
Sings there, and dances, in mad-hearted pranks,
There bees go courting every flower that's ripe,
On baulks and sunny banks;
And droning dragon-fly on rude bassoon,
Attempts to give God thanks In no discordant tune.
I love at early morn, from new mown swath,
To see the startled frog his route pursue;
To mark, while leaping o'er the dripping path,
His bright sides scatter dew;
The early lark that from its bustle flies
To hale his matin new, And watch him to the skies.
To note, on hedge-row baulks, in moisture sprent,
The jetty snail creep from the mossy thorn
With earnest head, and tremulous intent,
Frail brother of the morn,
That from the tiny bent's dew-misted leaves
Withdraws his timid horn,
And fearful vision weaves.'
In his papers for the Natural History Society's Journal, Druce did not confine himself to illustrations from Clare, but quoted freely from the English poets from Spenser to Tennyson. For this reason alone the volumes are worth taking down from the shelf and re-reading. In an early paper (I, 179)he tells the story of the Swedish botanist, Linnacus, who, when he first saw the gorse in full bloom in England, knelt down and gave thanks to God for creating so beautiful a display; he then rounded off his description of this plant with a quotation from Cowper:
'Rough with prickly gorse that shapeless and deformed, And dangerous to the touch has yet its bloom, And decks itself with ornaments of gold.' ,
Druce's death in his 82nd year (on 29th February 1932) occurred less than three months after that of Beeby Thompson. 'Rarely,' as Mr. H. N. Dixon wrote in the Journal (XXVI, 124), 'does a Society such as ours lose within such a brief space of time, two members of such outstanding position in the scientific world.' He relates that on Druce's 80th birthday 'a brilliant society of scientists gathered in London to do him honour and convey their affectionate greetings'. The fact is that Druce and Beeby Thompson, like Clare, were men 'possessed' by a spirit of impelling devotion to their life's work which they could hardly have resisted, if they had wanted to.
Druce was under 30 when he went to Oxford, but he had already wrought a great and lasting work for his native County. The Natural History Society still flourishes. The Journal, though less frequently, continues to be, published. In addition to the evening meetings at which papers were, read and discussed, informal walks or rambles have been perhaps the most consistent feature of the Society's life from. the very start. The first took place on 22nd May 1876, when the members walked over to Harlestone and back. 'Thus,' said Mr. Druce, 'a meeting was held which first brought into close contact people of varying shades of religious and political thought, and resulted in friendships being made which lasted many years.' On special occasions visits were made to the homes of individual members, as to Fawsley, Lilford, or Courteenhall. But behind the social activities, which kept the Society together, much solid work was being done by the really keen and serious members at the centre. A curious fact about these choice spirits, in those early days is that, with the exception of Beeby Thompson, all of them were amateurs.
The Society today can surely look back with Pride on the first 20 years of its history, and find much inspiration in the work of those pioneers who so well and truly laid the foundations of scientific studies in Northamptonshire. Their lives afford plenty of evidence, if any were needed, that to those who commit themselves with single-minded integrity to the pursuit of truth for its own sake, life will always be worth living; for such there is never a dull moment, and they will soon discover, as a New Zealand friend once said to me in a similar context, that they have 'brothers and sisters all over the world'.
The 1st 100 Years Home Section Histories